The plank is probably the most common and well known core exercise, just because of its pure simplicity. Often mistaken for the fad that swept Myspace in 2009 (sarcasm), planking is a great way to strengthen your core while learning what a neutral position with the head, neck, and spine should look and feel like. The problem people run into with the plank is that they begin to find them too easy without having to hold the position for sixty seconds or longer. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the patience to hold a plank for longer than a minute before I am ready to go on to my next exercise. Here are some plank variations to try and increase difficulty, instead of increasing the time:
· Single Leg: Taking away a point of contact will add a rotational challenge. It will be more difficult to maintain the neutral position on a single leg. Be sure to squeeze the glute of lifted leg to avoid an arch in the lower back.
· Single Arm: Same as the single leg, taking away a point of contact makes it difficult to maintain a neutral position and will challenge rotary stability. You can perform isometric holds for time on each side or can alternate slow and controlled reaches for repetitions.
· Weighted: Adding weight makes it more challenging to resist extension of the spine.
· Stability Ball: Performing a plank with your elbows on an unstable surface forces you to use your shoulder stabilizers and increases core activation.
· Long Lever: Moving your elbows further out in front of you increases core demand because two of your points of contact are further away from your body. Go out as far as you can as long as you don’t feel it in your lower back.
· Decline (my favorite variation): Placing your feet on an elevated surface makes it more difficult to resist spinal extension and provides greater upper body challenge. You can use a stable or unstable surface (box, stability ball, or medicine ball.)
The big things to keep in mind while performing any variation of the plank:
· Maintaining a neutral spine, think about bringing your ribs to your pelvis
· Don’t let your shoulder blades sag, think about pushing the floor away from you with your forearms
· Try to keep tension out of your neck and face (see how below)
Fortunately, (for everyone’s sake) the “planking” fad has come and gone, and there are no more guys lying face down under a urinal while their buddy takes a picture with their 7 megapixel digital camera. I’m sure Myspace already knew what a “cool” guy they were because their bio said they Crossfit and did Parkour on the weekends. So let’s not be that guy. Let’s keep “planking” relevant and not something that has to fade out of your training program. The real plank is here to stay and I hope these variations add a fresh take on a core classic.
Becca Carley, BS, ACSM-CEP